Ciabatta is a traditional Italian bread containing of just 4 simple ingredients and it is really easy to make at home, provided you follow a few easy rules that I list below.
Honestly speaking, despite the basic ingredients in it, I couldn’t get the ‘right’ ciabatta for quite some time. All the recipes I’ve tried were relatively the same and didn’t contain all those crucial tips for getting a perfectly puffed up bread with a whole lot of large air bubbles in it. So here I’ll share all the secrets and tips for a perfect ciabatta so that you have the same beautiful and appealing loaf with the first try 🙂 There is quite a lot of text below (I really tried my best to predict all possible questions!) but trust me, this bread is ridiculously easy to make 🙂
Unlike pretty baguette or perfectly shaped other types of bread, ciabatta is very much of a free form or even rustic bread; each loaf has its’ unique shape. The name ‘ciabatta’ also explains its shape: from Italian it translates as ‘slipper’. Not only the bread itself, but the dough is kind of unique: water to flour ratio here is 78%, which is very wet and close to liquid. Following the easy rules, you end up with crusty loaves that hide an incredibly airy, full of holes chewy interior.
This bread is perfect both for sandwiches and stews/ soups or even dunking.
- The easiest way to work with a high-hydration dough like this one is by using a stand mixer. It is possible though to knead it by hand (e.g., pulling, stretching and bringing it down to the centre of the remaining in the bowl dough and repeating this with another portion of dough as you turn the bowl clock- or counterclockwise) until the right consistency.
- A very important point on the stage of mixing the ingredients is adding liquid in small additions, otherwise flour won’t be able to develop enough gluten which will result in a very weak dough that wouldn’t hold its shape and lose a lot of gas (the baked loaf is usually flat, too much spread-out and lacking those beautiful holes).
- It is really handy to use a square medium-sized pan for proving the dough.
- The ciabatta dough does never need to be degased or punched down. In contrary, it requires a very delicate handling in order to keep as many bubbles trapped inside as possible.
- A very important point during dough proving is ‘stretch and fold’ (S&F) technique, which helps the dough to gain strength and make it more elastic. If the dough was mixed with mixer, there are 3 S&F’s to be done, if it was mixed by hand, you will ned 4 S&F’s.
- To ease dough handling when doing the S&F, make sure to wet your hands thoroughly with water, it will prevent sticking. It is better to use water, rather than oil or flour. The more liquid there is in the dough, the more open bubbles will the crumb have!
- It is crucial to flip the shaped and proven dough top side down just before baking. Otherwise the open bubbles will only develop at the top of the dough and the bottom will look dense and lacking an open crumb.
- It is preferrable to bake a ciabatta on a baking/ pizza stone that has been preheated in a hot oven prior to use. The stone helps to develop a crunchy crust and prevents the bread from burning at the bottom. If you don’t have one, just use a standard baking tray instead.
- In the beginning of the baking time it is ‘a must’ to use steam!
Ciabatta bread (the recipe makes 2 x 8.1 oz/ 230 g loaves)
- ½ c + 1T/ 4.59 oz/ 130 ml water
- small pinch of active dry yeast
- 3/4 c/ 3.7 oz/ 105 g all-purpose flour
- 2 T/ .89 oz/ 25 g whole wheat flour
At least 15 hours prior to baking, make the poolish (I make mine overnight). In a measuring cup, combine together the water and yeast. Add both the flours and stir with a spoon until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the mixture looks sticky and paste-like. Cover the cup tightly with cling film and leave at room temperature for 12-16 hours. The poolish then should double in volume, foam up and have a fresh, a little alcohol-like smell.
- all of the poolish
- 1½ c/ 7 oz/ 210 g all-purpose flour
- ½ c + 1T + 1 t/ 4.56 oz/ 135 ml water, divided (¼ c/ 75 + ¼ c/ 60 ml)
- ½ t active dry yeast
- 1½ t/ 7 g salt
You will also need:
- all-purpose flour for dusting
- water for hands when working with dough during proving
- 1 c/ 250 ml boiling water for creating steam during early stage of baking
Prepare a 8″/ 20 cm square pan for dough proving.
In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or dough hook, add the poolish, flour and ¼ c/ 75 ml water. Mix on low until fully incorporated and a thick, tough dough is formed.
Dissolve the yeast in remaining ¼ c/ 60 ml water. With the mixer running, add 1 T of the yeasted water to the dough and continue mixing until it’s fully absorbed by the dough before adding another portion of liquid. As you add water, the dough visually will look runnier, but still maintain its elasticity. Add the salt in. Increase the speed to medium-low and continue mixing for another 10-15 minutes, until the dough is glossy, still sticky and gooey, but it should clean the sides of the bowl.
Using a bowl scraper, transfer the dough to the prepared pan. The dough at this stage should be very elastic, you should be able to stretch it to a very thin layer without tearing it. Cover the pan with cling film. Leave to proof at room temperature.
Fill a small bowl with cold water. 30 minutes after you covered the dough for proving (if the mixing was done in a stand mixer; if by hand – after 20 minutes), remove the cling film. Wet your hands well with water, then gently spread the dough with your finger tips evenly over the pan. Pick one side of the dough, lift it, stretching it up and spreading outwards, and fold it over itself back in the pan, lightly pressing on the edge and securing it. Repeat the sequence with the other 3 sides. This operation is called ‘stretch and fold’ (S&F). Even after the first series of S&F it is noticeable that the dough looks stronger and thicker, still remaining soft. Cover the pan with cling film and leave it to prove.
At 60-th and 90-th minute of proving (if the dough was mixed by hand, at 40-th, 60-th and 80-th minute) repeat the S&F. You should be able to see how the dough becomes stronger and thicker, it should look jelly-like and hold the air bubbles well (make sure to shake the pan a little to see how nicely the dough ‘dances’ :))
After the last S&F cover the pan with cling film and leave the dough to prove for another 1 hour.
Photos below, left to right: dough after second S&F series; after third S&F and after the last 1-hour proving.
Dust the working surface well with flour. Prepare a cotton or flax linen or towel for the final proving: dust it generously with flour and rub it into the cloth.
Remove the cling film from pan, dust the dough with some flour, then flip the pan over to the working surface and let the dough release itself from the pan (if it doesn’t or it looks like it struggles to, just help it with a scraper). Flour the dough with more flour. Trying to be as gentle as possible and not to upset the dough airy texture, shape it with your finger tips into a rough square or rectangle. If necessary, cut the sides straight with a lightly floured bench scraper, then cut the dough in half swiftly with the scraper.
With lightly floured hands, transfer the first ciabatta to the floured linen. Fold or bunch the linen to create small walls on both long sides of the loaf to help maintain the shape as the dough proves. Transfer the second loaf next to the first one and fold/ bunch the linen on the open side of the second loaf. Cover the loaves with a clean towel and leave to prove at room temperature for 45 minutes, until puffed (see the photos above). The surface of the loaves will dry a little.
30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 485ºF/ 250ºC. Place a medium pan at bottom of the oven and position a baking/ pizza stone in the middle. If you are going to bake the ciabattas without the stone, replace it with a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
Remove the towel from the loaves and flatten all the linen folds. Lifting a long side of linen, swiftly and gently flip one loaf bottom side up onto a large chopping board. Repeat with the second loaf, spacing in from the first one.
Pour the boiling water into the pan at the bottom of the oven. Transfer both ciabattas as they are, without flipping them, to the baking stone and reduce the temperature to 430ºF/ 220ºC. Bake for 10-15 minutes with steam, then remove the pan with hot water from the bottom of oven and continue baking the loaves for another 15-20 minutes, until evenly golden brown all around.
Remove the ciabattas from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes. If necessary, brush the extra flour off with a soft brush.
The best taste and texture of ciabatta is on the say of baking. Store in a bread bin or covered in foil and consume within 1-2 days.